Who invented Quick Frozen Food? (Invention Timeline Explained)

The frozen food section in the supermarket is often packed with frozen vegetables, fruits, berries, pizzas, bagels, meat, fish, poultry, and many other food items. If you are wondering how these fresh tasting, nutritious and flavorful products came about, you have to thank Clarence Birdseye, an American scientist who pioneered the quick frozen food technology.

Who invented quick frozen food?

Clarence Birdseye, an American scientist, invented the process of quick freezing in 1924. He got the idea from the Inuit in Labrador, Newfoundland, who taught him how to ice fish. He noticed that the fish he caught froze quickly. When thawed, tasted almost as fresh as the day the fish was caught. 

The quick frozen food’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Inuit
    Traditional quick freezing

    The method the Inuit traditionally do to quick freeze the fish they caught inspired Clarence Birdseye to develop a process to freeze food quickly to retain their fresh flavors. 

  • Clarence Birdseye
    Quick frozen food’s inventor

    Clarence Birdseye, who worked In Labrador from 1912 to 1917 invented the Multiplate Quick Freeze Machine. The machine allowed him to freeze food quickly in the same manner as the Inuit’s traditional method of freezing their fresh catch. 

  • William Maxson
    First frozen dinner

    William Maxcon of W.L. Maxson Co. developed the first frozen dinner called Strato-Plates in 1944. His company sold to the U.S. Navy and airlines.

  • Frigoscandia Equipment
    Individual quick freezing method

    In the 1960s, the Frigoscandia Equipment developed the individual quick freezing (IQF), which allowed pieces of fruits and vegetables to freeze separately. The process prevents the pieces from forming a solid frozen lump.

  • Greg Loibl
    Home blast chiller

    In 1992, a Master’s student at the Cooper Union in New York City invented the Cooper Cooler, a portable blast freezing machine, the fastest machine to chill beverages including beer and wine. It can chill beverages from room temperature to icy cold in three minutes. 

When was quick frozen food invented?

Clarence Birdseye noticed that the frozen food sold in New York was not as fresh tasting as the fish the Inuit quickly froze in the ice in Labrador. He built a system to freeze packed fresh food quickly. In 1924, after founding the General Seafoods Company, he started selling quick frozen food to American consumers. 

A brief history of quick frozen food

Quick frozen food is not a new concept. Based on the evidence, Chinese people have been building ice cellars to preserve food through the winter season since 3,000 BC. But the modern method of quickly freezing food came from the invention of Clarence Birdseye. His invention started the modern frozen food industry, worth $256.46 billion in 2021.

Clarence Birdseye was an American scientist sent to Labrador in Newfoundland, now part of Canada. Between 1912 and 1917, Birdseye worked on a hospital ship before becoming a fox breeder. The indigenous Inuit taught him how to ice fish. He observed that the Inuit allowed the fish they caught to freeze immediately on the ice. When the frozen fish was cooked, he noticed that the fish tasted fresh and flavorful, different from the frozen fish sold in New York. 

When he came back to New York, he toyed with the idea of quickly freezing food to retain its freshness. He conducted several experiments on making a machine that would freeze food quickly. Finally, in 1924, Birdseye introduced his Multiplate Quick Freeze Machine. Realizing that quick frozen food is going to be a big industry, he established General Seafood Corporation to promote the technique of fast freezing.

Clarence Birdseye moved his company to Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1925. He marketed and sold his newest invention, a double belt freezer, solely in the city. Birdseye continued to do innovations on his freezing machines. Overall, he had 168 patents for the quick freezing machine alone. For many decades, Birdseye’s multiplate freezing machine quickly became the basis for freezing food. 

But in 1929, Clarence Birdseye sold the General Seafood Corporation and his patents to Goldman Sachs and the Postum Company for $22 million. The Postum Company, a cereal manufacturer, became General Foods Corporation, which established the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company, where Birdseye continued to work to develop frozen food technology further. 

In 1930, the Birds Eye Frozen Food Company started to provide 18 retail stores in Springfield, Massachusetts, with quick frozen foods to check consumer acceptance. It became the launch year of the first retail fast-frozen foods. The company sold about 26 different frozen items, including various cuts of meat, vegetables, fruits, fish fillets, and oysters. Consumers liked the new products, and Birds Eye remains one of the leading brands in the frozen food category.

The quick frozen food timeline

  1. 1920s
    Birdseye’s quick frozen food

    The quick freezing technology originated from Clarence Birdseye’s process in 1924. It also led Birdseye to establish a company and sold the first line of quick frozen food at a retail store in Massachusetts in March 1930.

  2. 1930s-1940s
    Frozen pies, French fries. and orange juice

    Birdseye introduced a new freezer display case he leased to retailers. California Consumers Corp. introduced frozen orange juice. Lloyd J. Harriss market-tested their frozen pies. Frozen Farm Products launched their frozen meat pies. The J.R. Simplot Co. introduced the first frozen French fries.

  3. 1950s
    Frozen fish sticks, TV dinners, frozen waffles, and more

    General Foods introduced the first frozen fish sticks under the Birds Eye label, while Tappan introduced the home model of the microwave oven. The period saw the introduction of Swanson of the first frozen TV dinners. Penobscot Frozen Foods introduced cheese-flavored baked stuffed potatoes. The frozen waffles from The Quaker Oats Company hit the grocery shelves during this period.

  4. 1960s
    Meat patties, Weight Watchers frozen dinners, pizzas, and seasoned vegetables

    Fast food chains started using frozen meat patties and fish. People also became conscious of their weight, which led Weight Watchers to develop healthy frozen dinners. This is also the period for introducing Green Giant’s butter seasoned vegetables, Cool Whip from Birds Eye, and frozen pizza snacks from Jeno.

  5. 1990s
    Starter meals, first rising-crust pizza, and first complete meal in a bag

    Various manufacturers came up with several fast-frozen goods from the 1960s to the 1980s. The trend continued well into the 1990s. About 1,682 frozen products were introduced in 1995. Top companies Pillsbury Co., Kraft Foods, and Nestlé came up with frozen foods people can cook in the oven or boil in a bag.

Where was quick frozen food invented?

Clarence Birdseye observed the Inuit quick-freezing the fish they caught on the thick ice in Newfoundland. He went back to New York but moved to Massachusetts, where he conducted many experiments to develop the machine using the technique for quick freezing fish fillets in wax-lined cardboard cartons quickly. 

The importance of quick frozen food

  • Affordable and healthy

    Quick frozen food is an affordable way to get a healthy dose of natural fruits, meats, fruits, and fish. The fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness, locking in all their natural flavors and nutrients. Often, they have more vitamins and minerals because fresh produce lose them through handling. 

  • Economical per edible ounce

    You do not have to pay for the stalks and leaves that you cannot use but sold a part of the fresh produce, which also add to their weight. The manufacturers remove the rinds, skins, and pits during processing. You do not get damaged food, either. You are sure that the high quality of the frozen food. 

  • Convenience at every pack

    Quick frozen foods are packed for convenience. You do not have to clean, pick, dice, chop, or squeeze the fruits and vegetables, Fish, meat, and poultry are already prepared. Everything is ready to use after thawing. 

  • Freshness overload

    Picked at their peak ripeness, quick frozen food seals in their freshness as well. You get all the vitamins and minerals the food items contain. As the food items are processed and frozen within hours, the quality of the products does not deteriorate. 

  • Maximum flexibility 

    You can store quick frozen foods far longer than fresh food items. It allows you to have a range of vegetables and fruits in your freezer without worrying about spoilage. Also, you can limit the number of times you have to shop, giving you more time to attend to other things. 

Quick frozen food by the numbers

  • 27The first 27 frozen food items sold by Birdseye’s company included haddock fillets, porterhouse steak, spring lamb chops, loganberries, raspberries, spinach and June peas. That was back in March 1930.
  • 168The number of patents Clarence Birdseye had for his quick-freezing process.
  • 90In the early days of quick frozen food, it takes 90 minutes to quick-freeze a two-inch thick package of meat. 
  • 30It took 30 minutes to quick-freeze fruits and vegetables in the early days when quick freezing was just starting.
  • 22,000,000Birdseye sold his General Seafood Company to Goldman Sachs and Postum Cereal Company for $22 million in 1929.

Five facts about quick frozen food

  • No preservatives 

    Quick frozen food is not processed food. It does not need preservatives as freezing is already one way of preserving the food. With the quick-freeze technique, the natural goodness of the food remains intact. The process retains the freshness of meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, and fruits.

  • Sealed-in freshness

    When fresh meat and produce are not available, quick frozen food is a good alternative. They are nutritious as their fresh counterparts. Fast frozen foods are picked, sorted, and frozen a few hours after harvest. So you are sure that they are still fresh when packed and frozen.

  • No wasted food

    You avoid wasting food because you can cook only what you need. You can buy quick frozen goods in smaller packages to use the exact amount you want to cook.

  • Savings and convenience

    You can store quick frozen goods longer than fresh food items. Moreover, you can enjoy out-of-season fruits and vegetables. Whipping up your favorite recipes is convenient because you can have the ingredients ready anytime. Many are pre-cut, so you all need to do is thaw them, which cuts down your preparation time. 

  • Safe food

    Fast frozen food is safe. They are packed fresh, and you enjoy that freshness without worry. You get all the goodness of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and fish. Quick frozen food manufacturers follow strict health and industry standards to ensure that consumers enjoy various food products without worrying about health risks.

FAQs about quick frozen food

  • What does quick freezing do to food?

     Rapid freezing freezes the food at extremely low temperatures. The process prevents the formation of large ice crystals in the food. There is minimum moisture loss, keeping the food nearly fresh when it thaws. 

  • How long does quick frozen food last?

    According to the FDA, quick frozen food can last several months if stored properly. Proper storage means that you should constantly keep frozen foods below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Quick frozen meat can last for two years in the box freezer, under the required conditions. 

  • What is the best and safest way to thaw quick frozen food?

     Place the item on a plate and let it thaw in the refrigerator. Boneless cuts of meat and thin steaks will thaw in 8 to 12 hours. Bone-in cuts and thicker cuts will take 24 hours. Whole birds and roasts will take about five hours per pound.

  • What is the advantage of quick freezing?

    Quick freezing retains the nutrients in the food better. The rapid process ensures the retention of cellular integrity of the food items, preventing the deformation of cells. The process prevents the formation of ice crystals in the food’s natural juices, so the food remains fresh. 

  • What is individual quick freezing?

    Individual quick freezing (IQF) is the technique used in freezing vegetables and fruits to prevent the food item from forming one solid lump. Thus, you see each piece of pea or berry and each slice of other fruits or vegetables separately inside a package. 

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